Chicken Satay: BBQ, Singapore Style

Among the things I miss the most about my native Singapore is one simple activity: Sitting by the beach on a steamy summer evening and looking out at the water as I reach for stick after greasy stick of freshly grilled satay.

The satay expeditions of my girlhood were frequent — few things beat the smoky smells of chicken, beef and mutton marinated in a potent cocktail of lemongrass, garlic, galangal, and turmeric getting barbecued in open-air food stalls, after all.

And my family, being hyper competitive as it is, always made a sport of it. Dad would order satay by the dozens and the race would begin to see whose pile of sticks, stripped of meat, would be the largest at the end. (You would think my father, being the oldest and the only male, would always win. Well, not in this cutthroat family, he didn’t.)

So when my Let’s Lunch crew decided on BBQ for our monthly virtual lunch date, satay seemed a must. I’ve only made it a few times in New York — never in Singapore, where it’s so easy to find and cheap (30 to 50 cents Singapore per stick, or 23 to 40 cents U.S.) that it makes little sense to go to the trouble of making it.

But I had just made it recently — at a little dinner one night at the Djerassi Resident Artists Program

Now, I’ve mentioned a terrific chef named Dan who took wonderful care of the artists in residence in the month I recently spent writing at Djerassi. Dan, however, did not work on weekends — which meant that our Saturday dinners became international cultural exchanges of sorts, with artists from Mongolia and Austria taking the lead to share bits of their culinary culture. (More on those dishes later, I promise.)

In the spirit of sharing, I decided one Saturday to make Singaporean chicken satay, which is not as hard as it seems — especially if you have a food processor.

You basically prep an insane amount of garlic, galangal (or ginger) and shallots. Then, toss them in the processor with turmeric, coriander, kecap manis (a thick, sweet Indonesian soy sauce) and more. Once that’s blended together well, place that in a bag with chicken thigh slivers and marinate that overnight in the fridge.

The next day, all you have to do is thread the meat on skewers, fire up the grill and you’re ready to go.

It helps if you have a trusty griller handling the barbecuing — Neil Rolnick, a lovely composer, graciously offered his services. (You can check out some of Neil’s work here.)

In Singapore, satay usually comes with spicy peanut sauce, chopped cucumbers and shallots and ketupat (Malay-style rice densely packed into small squares and then wrapped tightly in interwoven coconut leaves, which lend fragrance to the rice). At Djerassi, there was no time for weaving or tracking down of coconut leaves, however.

So the artists whipped together a lovely California-style accompaniment: a heaping strawberry and avocado salad.

Once that was done, we just added a great dinner view …

… and we were ready to go.

Of all the satay recipes I’ve tried over the years, the one I turn to the most is Bee‘s over at Rasa Malaysia. (I make just one small tweak — I add a tablespoon or two of sugar to the marinade because the shallots I often end up using are fairly large and the sugar tempers that a little. And I usually add some fresh minced galangal or ginger just because I like a slight taste of that in satay.)

The recipe is pretty much perfect, foolproof and copied below. So have at it, lunchers, and buon appetito…


Don’t forget to check out the Let’s Lunchers’ BBQ dishes below! And if you’d like to join Let’s Lunch, go to Twitter and post a message with the hashtag #Letslunch — or, post a comment below.

Aleana‘s Home-made Ketchup, Relish & Mustard (BBQ-Friendly Condiments) at Eat My Blog

Charissa‘s Grilled Pulled-Pork Pizza with Roasted Corn (Gluten-Free) at Zest Bakery

Eleanor‘s BBQ Spicy Hoisin Ribs at Wok Star

Emma‘s Miso-Glazed Grilled Veggies and Polenta at Dreaming of Pots and Pans

Grace‘s Working Mama’s Pork Tenderloin Bao at HapaMama

Jill‘s Steven Raichlen Ribs Interview at Eating My Words

Joe‘s Grilled Cabbage (and Smoky Cabbage and Udon Slaw) at Joe Yonan

Juliana‘s Grilled Wagyu and Turbot with Bearnaise Sauce at J. Loh

Lisa‘s BBQ Salmon with Tahini Dressing and Fresh Herb Salad at Monday Morning Cooking Club

Lucy‘s Taj Ma Hog & Not-So-Secret BBQ Sauce at A Cook and Her Books

Nancie‘s Thai Grilled Chicken Wings with Sweet Hot Garlic Sauce at Nancie McDermott

Pat‘s Korean-Style Beef Shortribs (Kalbi) at The Asian Grandmother’s Cookbook

Renee‘s Steamed Buns with BBQ Pork at My Kitchen And I


Chicken Satay Recipe

From Rasa Malaysia


4 chicken legs and thighs (preferred) or 4 chicken breasts (boneless and skinless)

Spice Paste:

1 teaspoon coriander powder
2 stalks lemongrass, white parts only
6 shallots (peeled)
2 cloves garlic (peeled)
4 tablespoons cooking oil
1 teaspoon chili powder
2 teaspoons turmeric powder (kunyit)
4 teaspoons of kecap manis (Indonesian sweet soy sauce)
1 teaspoon oyster sauce
Bamboo skewers (soaked in water for 2 hours to avoid burning)
1 cucumber (skin peeled and cut into small pieces)
1 small onion (quartered)


Cut the chicken meat into small cubes. Grind the Spice Paste in a food processor. Add in a little water if needed. Marinate the chicken pieces with the spice paste for 10-12 hours. Thread the meat onto the bamboo skewers and grill for 2-3 minutes on each side. Serve hot with the fresh cucumber pieces and onions.


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13 thoughts on “Chicken Satay: BBQ, Singapore Style

  1. I love Satay and these look totally awesome! I am confused about the galangal/ginger. Is it part of the recipe? You can substitute ginger for galangal if you lack the latter? I went looking for a satay recipe this week and there were soooo many. This one looks really good though, so I amy have to try it next. :)

    • Galangal is ideal but ginger is a fine substitute, too. (You know — you just made me realize that that’s another tweak that I make to Bee’s recipe. I’ll note it! Thanks, Renee…)

  2. Pingback: Chicken Satay: BBQ, Singapore Style | A Tiger in the Kitchen | Mr. Barbeque

  3. I think this is going to be Monday night’s dinner! Already printed and stuck on the wall, ready to go. Sounds delicious. Love the story that goes with it…took me a while to work out that Djerassi (sounds so exotic) us actually in CA….

    • Djerassi does sound exotic… (The founder’s originally from Austria.) Glad you like the looks of the recipe — don’t forget to get/make some peanut sauce, too!

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